I think I've been spoiled by Time/Life's excellent release of The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Collection. They did it right, gathering all of the episodes of that show, the crossovers, and the TV movies and putting them together in one cool boxed set. Warners has just released Batman Beyond: The Complete Series, and I was hoping for a comprehensive collection of this solid series, telling the whole story of the Batman of the future. While buyers will get all three seasons of the show, which are all very good, the set omits the movie based on the series as well as a couple of crossover appearances, most notably the episode of Justice League Unlimited that wraps up the whole tale.
In the year 2039 a young high school athlete with a penchant for getting into trouble, Terry McGinnis, finds himself being chased by a bunch of Jokerz, gang members who emulate Batman's most famous villain. He ends up in a wooded area where he makes his stand, and though he handles himself very well, he's just outnumbered. Things look bad for him until an old man turns up and thrashes the youths easily. The old man becomes incapacitated from the excursion, so Terry takes the man home... to Wayne Manor.
It turns out Terry was on Wayne's estate and that Batman had retired 20 years earlier after suffering a heart attack in the middle of a battle. Wayne enterprises was taken over (it's now Wayne/Powers Enterprises), and now bitter and alone (there's a row of empty costumes in the Bat Cave, once belonging to Robin, Night Wing, and Batgirl) Bruce spends his days with his dog, Ace. While the millionaire is sleeping, Terry pokes around the mansion and discovers something that he wasn't supposed to: The Bat Cave. Bruce wakes up and chases out the teen who runs home.
When he gets there, he discovers that his father has been murdered. It looks like the work of the Jokerz, but Terry isn't so sure. He discovers that Derek Powers (the man who took over
When the 'real' Batman finds out that Terry has appropriated his suit, he gets very irate. Communicating with the teen through the suit's build in radio, he demands that Terry return to Wayne Manor. Of course, Terry argues and continues on his mission to bring down Powers. He does meet up with the man, but in the battle Powers is exposed to radiation and a new chemical weapon that changes him into the villain Blight.
Aiding Terry in his fight is Max Gibson, a girl who stumbles upon his secret identity. She's one of his closest friends and, as all intelligent high school kids who appear in TV shows are, an computer expert. He also gets some help from the Gotham City Police Commissioner, Barbara Gordon. As daughter of the Commissioner Gordon who helped out Bruce Wayne, and someone who took up the hero mantle herself, as Batgirl, she realizes how dangerous the job is, and how much the city needs Batman.
One of the most memorable aspects of the original Batman was his rouge's gallery, and Terry soon gets one of his own. In addition to the previously mentioned Blight, there's also freelance criminal Inque, who can turn her body into liquid, the insane Shriek who can create destructive sound waves, and Stalker, a big game hunter who thinks that Batman is the biggest game of all. The series also features appearances of some of the original Batman's foes, though only a few. Being nearly immortal, it's not surprising that Ra's al Ghul should show up, and Mr. Freeze makes an appearance as well.
When this show was first announced, I had my doubts. Though I really enjoyed 1992's Batman: The Animate Series, I assumed that Batman Beyond was just an attempt to make Batman hip and cool and bring him up to the 1990's. Getting rid of many of the things that made the character so intriguing, his tortured origin, the enemies he fought and the allies he made, and replacing him with a young kid in a stupid looking suit (I'm still not a fan of the new outfit) made it feel like they were willing to sacrifice the character for a quick buck. Turns out I was wrong about that. The series was helmed by Bruce Timm, the creative force behind Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series as well as Justice League/Justice League Unlimited and he brings the same sense of fun and adventure that he filled those series with to this project.
The things that make the show succeed are the same elements that made other Timm series so exciting: good stories, solid dialog and a good dose of imagination. With a syndicated series, the writers had the luxury of developing the characters over a longer time frame than in a movie, and creating subplots that worked out over time. That adds a lot of richness to the series and helps to make this one of the better Batman adaptations, in film or on TV.
While I really enjoyed the show, this set was a bit of a disappointment. It includes all three seasons, 52 episodes in all, that have previously been release and a disc of (mostly) new bonus material. But that's all. With just a few additions this could have been a great, complete set, but it isn't.
So, what's missing? The most notable omission is the direct to video movie, Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker. This isn't only a great adventure, but it also fills in a lot of gaps in the 'future history' of Batman, like what happened with Robin and why Batgirl retired.
There was a spin-off series, The Zeta Project, that started with a two-part crossover with Batman Beyond. The first episode, an installment of Batman Beyond, is included but the Zeta Project chapter is not.
There was also an episode of Static Shock that featured Terry as Batman (Future Shock), and half of a two-part time travel Justice League Unlimited adventure where the JLA meets Terry (The Once and Future Thing, Part 2: Time Warped). Including these would have been really nice and made the package much more attractive.
The final show that is missing from the 'complete series' set is the wrap up of the whole story: Epilogue, another episode of Justice League Unlimited. This episode draws parallels between Terry and Bruce Wayne, reveals secrets about Terry and his father that didn't appear in the series proper and serves as an excellent way to tie everything up. It's a real shame that it wasn't included on the bonus disc.
The three seasons arrive in a large nicely illustrated box with a clear acetate slipcover that adds a lot of the visual appeal of the collection. Inside the box is a large 8 X 12 24-page booklet with character sheets, background images, an essay and the episode list. The discs themselves are housed in a double-width clear keepcase. They are exactly the same as the previous season sets, right down to the numbering and art.
The stereo audio track fits the show. Though I would have enjoyed it if they had remixed it for 5.1 sound, the two channel soundstage has a fair amount of panning and the action sequences are fairly dynamic for a 90's TV show. The dialog is clean and clear and there aren't any defects worth mentioning.
The full frame image is fine. It's a tad soft, and there are just a few errant specks, but the show is over a decade old now and was created back before computer animation was the norm. The colors could be a little brighter and the detail could be a bit sharper, but overall it's a solid looking show.
This set contains the same extras as the earlier season sets: Commentaries on 4 episodes ( two each from the first two seasons) and a roundtable discussion with the creators discussing their favorite moments in season three. There's also an Inside Batman Beyond panel for each season, where the staff discusses the origins of the show and some of the stories.
There's also an exclusive bonus disc that's just so-so. It includes three new featurettes and a recycled docu. First is Tomorrow Knight: The Batman Reborn (11 minutes) which looks at the new characters that appear in the series. Gotham: City of the Future (5 minutes) covers the design of the future
They also included the documentary Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics. This was released on its own DVD this month, so I'm not sure why it's included here too. It's a nice overview of comics in general and DC in particular and well worth watching.
This could have been a great set. As it is, if you're a fan and you have the earlier season sets there's no reason to upgrade. The bonus disc really isn't worth it. If they had included the Batman Beyond movie as well as the Zeta Project, Static, and Justice League Unlimited crossovers it might have been a different story. Alas those aren't included so this 'complete' series is missing important parts of the story. It's a great show though, well worth checking out, so it's recommended on that basis alone.